Presented on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at the Park Church.
It is well known that Twain took contemporary social, political, and particularly racial beliefs to task through an incisive skepticism which outpaced many of his generation. But Twain also understood the role that science and empiricism played in the formation and justification of social projects. Like many of his time, he was thrilled by the explosion of new technologies and systems that characterized the 19th century. For example, we know from his personal writings how excited he was to include Francis Galton's discovery of fingerprinting in Puddn'head Wilson. But even in that excitement, Twain never lost sight of his characteristic skepticism, and a closer look at his literary portrayal of science reveals a visionary's understanding of how empirical facts - and the systems organizing those facts - would be increasingly scrutinized as social and political tools in literature in the 20th century.
James W. Leonard recently received his PhD from Tufts University and is currently an adjunct professor of English at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. While much of his research focuses on 20th-century authors (particularly Djuana Barnes, Cormac McCarthy, and Leslie Marmon Silko), he is particularly interested in Mark Twain's capacity for identifying and articulating complex forms of social critique that would only be popularized years after his death. His current research on Twain looks at his insistence on filtering empiricism through satire.